As this is my first post for Her Campus, I thought I’d introduce myself and tell you a little bit about my study abroad experience so far. I’m an English Literature student at The University of Western Ontario, and I’m completing my third year, from August to May, at l’Université d’Aix-Marseille (formerly known as l’Université de Provence), located in Aix-en-Provence. Aix is in the south of France, in the Bouches-du-Rhône -- or Provence -- region, and is about 30 minutes from the Mediterranean Sea and very close to such exotic locales as Cannes, Nice, Monaco, Marseille, and only about an hour from Paris on the high-speed trains. I’ll admit that this high-flying lifestyle appealed to me when I was researching study abroad locations (as well as the supposedly gorgeous climate), and on a whim, I made an about face from placing England to France at the top of my study abroad “wish list.” I figured finally mastering the language could be one of my goals on my year abroad.
Well... let’s just say, studying abroad is all about defying expectations. No matter what plans you’ve made, expectations you have, or precautions you’ve taken... the only thing you should prepare for is to have all of those challenged.
I have certainly run into my fair share of roadblocks here, the first being the weather: I just cannot seem to get used to the pushing-40-degrees-always-sweltering-and-sunny weather they have over here. (All my friends and family at home hate me for saying this... but it’s true! Apparently I’m a true-blue Canadian.)
Then there’s the language. Coming to France you’d think I’d be speaking it so often I’d be close (or at least much closer) to fluent by now. Unfortunately, the most French I’ve spoken was in the two-week intensive language course I took. Often, if French people can tell you’re struggling with the language they’ll switch to English. (Many of them speak at least some English, even if they say they don’t.) Apparently my attempts to look somewhat European have failed miserably because on more than one occasion I’ve been pegged as a citizen of an English-speaking country before I’ve even opened my mouth.
And if you think you have all your paperwork sorted out before coming to France, think again. I’ve spent countless hours of my time getting things sorted out -- everything from long-stay applications to educational registration forms to medical examinations to bank accounts to residence payments to internet connectivity -- and I even had to cancel a trip I’d planned because of last-minute problems with registration at my university. There’s really no way to avoid it because as far as I can tell (and from what everyone loves to tell me), the French and good bureaucracy just do not mix.
But if I had to summarize my short study abroad experience so far, it would be positive in spite of all these problems and frustrations I’ve had. Because on the complete opposite end of the scale is all the amazing and totally unexpected experiences I’ve had. I’ve made lifelong friends with people I would never have thought I’d bond with. I’ve seen some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the world. I’ve learned some “life lessons” (as cheesy as that sounds) that I’m convinced I would never have experienced in the comfort of my home. I’ve gained some valuable insights into the ways other cultures and countries do life, and it’s made me reconsider the way I -- and many of my fellow Canadians -- live ours.
While it’s not easy to move 5000 miles away from home, I can already say with confidence that I would wholeheartedly recommend studying abroad to every university student because there’s just no way you can get these kinds of experiences -- good or bad -- at home. And what better place to do it than under the beautiful sunshine, crisp breezes, and gorgeous scenery of southern France?
Next week, I’ll be talking about my first day at school… and the crazy that is the French education system!
If you’re interested in following more of my study abroad adventures, hop on over to bonjour-provence.blogspot.com and take a look at my personal travel blog!